Families are so fundamental to our existence that we forget the degree to which they affect our well-being and overall capacity as human beings.
In an era marked by change in family composition, high divorce rates and struggle to care for aging relatives, it’s comforting to hear about a truly “happy” family.
It may seem absurd to suggest that people need to be taught how to create a “happy” family, however dysfunctional families stemming from the lack of nurturing in the home environment indicate otherwise.
In our midst is a truly “happy” family that grew from a foundation in grandparents, father and mother contributed to a climate that encouraged sharing, continual learning, caring, self-expression, responsibility and respect.
Recently that family came together in in honor of one of the families “architects” Mary Geneieve Szostak, affectionately known as “Grandma Jamma.”
The senior Szostak, who recently celebrated her 99th birthday, is a statistical anomaly. The Greenleaf resident not only enjoyed a milestone that only 1.5 percent of all people in the United States can claim, but has a mind that recalls the past like a “steel trap.”
“Grandma had eight siblings and lived through the Depression. She lived a hard life and she’s still sharp,” her granddaughter Jilene Sostak says. “We all respect her."
Mary Genieve (nee Butz) Szostak was born to Polish immigrants Sebastian Butz and Marya Genevieve (nee Karnafel) Butz on May 27, 1913. She was raised in Michigan and resided there until she married Anthony Stanley Szostak on October 20, 1934.
Szostak learned the importance of family in the midst of the depression when she was called to “do her part” and get a job and contribute a significant portion of her income when the family struggled to make ends meet.
The lesson that remained was one of caring and sharing and she religiously passed on to her three children, 13 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren.
Many in Bolingbrook may be familiar with the Szostak name because Mary Genieve’s son, Edward, and daughter-in-law, Helene, raised nine children here. They also part of a rare demographic as they prepare to celebrate 50 years of marriage this month.
Their children, who include Anne Marie, 48, of Peoria, Eddie, 47, of Texas, Kristina, 46, of Mundeline, Jimmy, 43, of Tennessee, David, 39, of Chicago, Andy, 35, of Yorkville, Jill, 34, of Chicago, Ben, 33, of North Dakota, and Brian 32, of Bolingbrook, are all flourishing.
To commemorate “Grandma Jamma’s” birthday family members near and far made the trek back to Bolingbrook.
“My kids are a blessing,” aid Helene Szostak. “Our parents are the reason we decided to raise them here.”
Understanding the importance of family, Ed and Helene Szostak made a conscious decision to stay close to both sets of parents after bouncing around the country the early part of their marriage.
“My husband was in the Navy. He was lucky, because he got in the Union when he got out and learned a trade,” Helene Szostak said. “We were living in Northern California and came back with our oldest three children to visit. They didn’t know my parents or his. Family is very important to us, so we knew our only choice was to moveback to Illinois.”
Fast forward 40 years and that fortuitous move continues to reap the most valuable benefits any family can claim: a secure foundation upon to establish a productive life.